New Program Benefits Elementary Students With Special Needs

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – In the first week back to school, a Sioux Falls elementary is implementing a new program to benefit those with special needs.

“Trends are that children are less active, they aren’t rolling down hills, and they are not making mud pies,” says Physical Therapist at Susan B. Anthony Elementary, Jolene Gordon.

Gordon says technology is changing the way kids are growing up; “they are not involved in creative-type play anymore.”

So Gordon and her colleague, Occupational Therapist Trish Nelson, are looking to strengthen any student’s underdeveloped neurological system through a program called Active Based Learning Environment, or ABLE.

“The goal is to build those foundational skills in order for them to function through the day,” says Nelson.

Students go through different movement stations that includes stretching, a spinning apparatus and building with blocks on their stomachs.

“It’s getting your core stronger, your arms and legs stronger, integrating primitive reflexes,” explains Nelson.

A similar program was first offered at the school two years ago, but now it’s expanding to serve the more than 50 students with special needs.

“The challenge with our students who already have learning issues is that if they have to think about how to control their body, then they can’t listen to what they’re learning,” explains Nelson.

There are 4 classes that are participating in ABLE. Each class spends 20 minutes twice a day going through the different movement stations. The program is teacher-based. So instead of having Nelson or Gordon lead the sessions, each teacher in the four classes are the ones instructing their students.

In the first week, the therapists say they can already see improvements.

“Just seeing the smile on their faces,” says Gordon. “It gives them a sense of pride when they accomplish something.”

And it’s the community that is making this possible. Over the summer, Nelson set up a GoFundMe to raise money for equipment. Her goal was $3,000, but instead, $6,000 have been raised.

“I am honored and humbled at the generosity of the community in supporting this cause,” says Nelson.

This means equipment made for kids in wheelchairs is coming soon, ensuring that everyone at school is ready to learn. Nelson hopes they’ll soon be able to purchase more audible and sensory-based toys for those visually impaired, as well.

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